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Asbestos cover-up consistent with BC Ferries secrecy: Coons

British Columbia Ferry Services Inc. needs to be more forthcoming about any risk from asbestos on its ships, said Gary Coons, the New Democratic Party's ferry critic.

“Once again we have the secrecy and lack of necessary public information being stalled by those at the helm of B.C. Ferries,” said Coons, the MLA for North Coast. “The minister responsible [Shirley Bond] must reassure the traveling public and British Columbians that when they travel on a B.C. Ferry they are not put at risk.”

B.C. Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall has been quoted in media reports saying tests for asbestos on the Queen of Burnaby came back negative.

While a June 7 report does say tests on material from two areas came back negative, a June 4 report says material from another area contained high concentrations of asbestos.

The Queen of Burnaby, which runs between Comox and Powell River, has had its cafeteria closed this week while the problem is assessed.

Coons noted that a class action lawsuit was filed last year after B.C. Ferries allegedly failed to notify passengers about loose asbestos in the passenger lounge on the Queen of Quadra II, which runs between Port McNeill on northern Vancouver Island, Sointula and Alert Bay.

“B.C. Ferries cannot afford to be hesitant in sharing the facts,” he said. “We’ve had seven long years of lack of transparency and accountability from both the company and this Liberal government. The lack of information about safety reports and information has been a concern since April 2003 and continues to be.”

Minister Bond needs to make sure the government-owned company is adhering to provincial and federal regulations, he said.

Marshall has failed to respond to several Tyee requests for information and comment this week.

“Asbestos has killed untold thousands of workers in Canada,” said labour critic Raj Chouhan in a news release. “The nonchalance with which B.C. Ferries treated this revelation is extremely disturbing.”

Chouhan, the MLA for Burnaby-Edmonds, last month called on Labour Minister Murray Coell to implement a registry so that workers and the general public would know where asbestos is located and be able to take appropriate precautions.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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